The “Band, Baaja, Baaraat” problem.

First published in BW Businessworld here.

On Friday, September 14, 1944, the 23rd HQ Special Corps led by Colonel Reeder was bivouacked outside Paris. They received orders to move to the front, some 200 miles away and draw enemy units away from the fortress city of Metz and reinforce the line along the Moselle river until relieved by the Eighty-Third Infantry Division.

Once Colonel Reeder reached the front, hearing sounds of heavy artillery and tanks from his unit, the German patrols didn’t dare cross the river to attack. This operation, code named Operation Bettembourg was to last two days, but since the relieving unit was delayed, Colonel Harry Reeder managed to hold out against the Germans for eight days.

What makes this story remarkable is that the 23rd HQ Special Corps was a “Ghost Army” – a mere illusion.  It was a traveling light and sound show complete with dummy tanks, landing craft and artillery pieces, all made with pieces of wood, rubber and some creative painting. This unit included sound engineers who recorded thousands of sounds – tanks, trucks, and bulldozers. They even recorded sounds from US Army bases and blasted them from powerful speakers to be heard from over 15 miles away. These sounds, when mixed together, could fool the Germans into thinking that Allied forces were coming toward them.

While Colonel Reeder’s ‘Ghost Army’ managed to deceive the Nazis in some instances, the war was won by units fighting with real weapons and by soldiers who shed real blood. While the Operation Bettembourg sound and light show was simply one of the tactics employed by the Allied forces, marketing departments in many organizations seem to be permanently focused on just one of the four Ps of marketing. Such marketing team’s existence seems to rest on communications alone; in the creation of “content”, measurement of success through vanity metrics and advertising awards won.

Business outcomes be damned.

In ignoring the rest of the 4 Ps; marketing may have what I term as the ‘Band Baaja Baaraat’ problem.  

While a flawed organization structure, siloed product and business teams could be one of reasons, marketers are largely responsible for this slide.

Because the purpose of business is to create a customer; the business enterprise has two – and only two basic functions; marketing and innovation “.  Peter Drucker wrote these timeless words in 1954. Escaping the ‘Band Baaja Baaraat’ problem and doing what marketing is meant to do requires deep introspection, consistent efforts and capability building.

Acknowledge first. Introspect, reflect and interrogate your colleagues to determine if your organization suffers from the ‘Band Baaja Baaraat’ problem. Afterall, knowledge begins with an acknowledgement of ignorance.

Identify where you will create Value. In their book ‘The 12 Powers Of A Marketing Leader’ Thomas Barta and Patrick Barwise state that marketing’s success lies in maximizing the overlap between customer and company needs. This intersection, on a Venn diagram, they term as the V-zone – Value Creation Zone.

Communicate widely. Once you acknowledge the issue, communicate internally. Share your thinking with the management team, talk to your agency, colleagues in operations, product teams and business development.

Identify business goals. When developing the Brief, clarify the business goal and define it. Define what needs to be done – karna kya hain – in simple English.

Not every business problem warrants a communications solution. Solutions could lie beyond communications alone. For instance, running high decibel promotions for a temporary increase in volumes is not the only alternative, profit enhancement can also be achieved through pricing actions (with some sacrifice in volumes). Sometimes simple tactics, including better training tools or tweaks in the incentive structure for business development teams can help achieve similar outcomes. Think of possibilities beyond communications and make suggestions that go beyond communication (the Promotion “P”). Be ready for most of these to be shot down – it’s part of your journey of exploring possibilities beyond just the one “P”.

Go Upstream. in evolving the Brief, go as upstream as possible to identify the business and consumer problem. Asking “Why”, helps. While data may not be available for everything, developing hypothesis to give shape to the consumer and business problem at hand is helpful.

Accept hard metrics. Be ready to fail. Don’t get distracted by vanity metrics, measure success with hard metrics; like revenue or profits generated, actual footfalls, units sold etc. Only when you do this will you open your eyes to the interplay of 4Ps and identify gaps that could prevent achievement of the business goal. For instance, disruptions in the supply chain could prevent achievement of a revenue generation outcome, keeping your eyes peeled for it, will help you make decisions like calibrating spends or deferring some actions.

And to be ready to fail is to be prepared for success.

Speak the language of your business. Many marketers, residents of marketing and advertising echo chambers, take comfort in shape-shifting buzz words and dissect the minutiae of vanity metrics. Many don’t realize that this is the language of the business of media houses and digital publishers but not the language of your business. Start speaking the language of your business, earn respect.

And finally,

Stay curious. Behind the simple act of getting a customer to part with his (or her) money and buy your company’s thingamajig are beat salesmen working hard despite the forty-five degree summer heat, Call Center agents operating from grimy basements run by your Procurement selected L1 Call Center, material handlers in cavernous warehouses picking and packing the right SKU and technicians operating machines in a sub-contractor’s factory located in a back-of-the-beyond town (to avail tax breaks offered by a State Government and meet your cost target).

Many marketers, while curious about the latest advertising platform or the shiniest new “digital toy” seem to have an appalling lack of curiosity about their business’ operations. Staying curious about your business is important. Apart from the knowledge gained, it ensures that you remain empathetic to the needs of your business and your colleagues. And consequently, your marketing efforts will go beyond just Band Baaja Baraat